The most important technique in the preparation of sushi is how to make sushi rice, that is called ‘shari,’ ‘sushi-meshi,’ or ‘su-meshi’ (vinegar[ed] – [cooked]rice), in its best condition, and that depends on how perfectly mix-up the cooked rice and vinegar-mixture (awase-zu) together deliciously.
The taste of sushi greatly depends on the taste of sushi rice. It is often said that the rice part shares as much as 60% of it, according to the opinions of many sushi chefs. The key factor is the ‘shari’ itself, as well as fish (sashimi) quality.
There are some certain and easy know-hows in preparation of the sushi rice at home.
How to select rice:
It does not much depend on the quality of the rice, such as ‘Koshi-hikari’, one of the best and most expensive brands, or ‘Sasa-nishiki’, usually the second and expensive one, those are ideal japonica species for usual daily diet in Japan, but they are sometimes said to be less suitable for sushi-rice, because of their much sticky characteristics.
The most important factor in selecting a short-grain (japonica subspecies) white rice is how much that brand is capable of absorbing the water in nature, which in turn corresponds to how much the vinegar is soaked by the cooked rice. Because the degree of the vinegar penetration into the rice plays a greater part of the taste of sushi rice, and it effects whole sushi taste consequently.
By this reason, it is not always necessary to use a new rice (‘shin-mai’) which is relatively abundant in water-content, but an older, long-stored rice (‘ko-mai,’ i.e. one year old) is rather suitable for ‘shari’ owing to lesser water content. Many sushi restaurants use their own mixture of these two kinds with a ratio of more than 50% of ‘ko-mai.’
How to cook rice:
How to vinegar the cooked rice:
Do not wait a minute after the cook. Rice vinegar (‘kome-zu/yone-zu’) mixture (‘awase-zu’) should be prepared 30 minutes before the use for good dissolving of the ingredients, with the following Basic Recipe (if possible, with ‘kombu’ (kelp), and/or either a little of sake or mirin – sweet cooking rice wine.) Add salt to vinegar first and warm it up for a better dissolving and secondly sugar.
(By the way, sugar was never used in the very former times at all, but no one does so today.)
The most important and critical point is the temperature of the cooked rice, which is the key factor how much the vinegar can penetrate into the rice grains, and this is the crucial process in the preparation and getting the utmost taste of the sushi rice.
A Practical Example:
This is a typical example for a small sushi party, for 2-3 persons. It takes about two hours or more in total from the beginning.
How to make Nigiri by hands:
Use ‘Te-zu’ (hand-vinegar, vinegar for hands, some diluted vinegar solution thinned with water by 1:2 or 1:3) for moistening your hands. Also it is advisable to
warm upcool down your palms at the same or preferably below the temperature of the shari in order not to stick much.
Do not grasp and press shari and fish too tight, and try to introduce much air space (hollows) in the rice. Also at the same time, be sure and try not to get them be aparted each other easily! (a contradictory story, but it the true technique for a better taste of sushi.)
The ways of hand-forming of sushi are actually named, Te-gaeshi, Tate-gaeshi and Kote-gaeshi (‘-gaeshi’ suffix for ‘kaeshi’ means turning the sushi rice ball.)
A delicious, hand-formed shari (now ‘nigiri’) and fish never broken down when picked up with chopsticks, and at the same time, pieces of rice never fail to get loosed until in the mouth.